The passing of David Bowie earlier this week sparked a huge wave of mourning from fans.
The Clash team were no different. Each member of staff - and every single one of our writing pool - seemed to have a story to share, a snippet of personal attachment to one of his songs.
A truly remarkable artist, these conversations grew in pace until we decided to gather some of the finest choices for a 7 Of The Best piece.
This isn't a ranking of Bowie's work, rather a chance for us to be open about the connection some of us feel to the great man's music.
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‘Fame’ (as picked by Robin Murray)
The title says it all. In 1975 David Bowie sat with the world at his feet, swapping glam rock astronomy for the translucent, white boy funk of ‘Young Americans’. John Lennon supplied the title - and no doubt influenced the sardonic world view - while the riff evolved from an epic jam session on the old R&B standard ‘Footstompin’. Recorded with a crack team of session musicians, ‘Fame’ became Bowie’s first Billboard number one and it remains one of his most immediate and downright funky moments. Hell, even Public Enemy sampled it.
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‘Changes’ (as picked by Felicity Martin)
An obvious one, sure, but it’s hard not to have a soft spot for the ‘Hunky Dory’ cut, with the man himself on sax. Bowie was always a re-inventor, a chameleon. So it’s apt that one of his signature, best-loved songs cites that very quality in its title. Always being one step ahead of the game, as this scarily prophetic video so perfectly highlights, was a defining feature of the man who brought us so much. Turn and face the strange…
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‘Rebel Rebel’ (as picked by Simon Harper)
My God. From the off, THAT serrated riff is just pure energy: wild and propulsive, it exudes the most primal sexuality, hitting as hard and heavy as those insistent drums lying underneath. It flowed from Bowie’s own fingers (Mick Ronson had recently departed his side) and resonates with the song’s bisexual provocativeness. Whether it’s glam’s swansong or punk’s inception, ‘Rebel Rebel’ is above all a storming four-and-a-half minutes that’s just as incendiary with every repeated listen.
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‘Starman’ (as picked by Rob Meyers)
Upon leaving a fashion week party this evening due to my insane sadness, I randomly got talking to some Bowie fans, who asked me about the original 1972 Bowie rosette I was wearing (something I won on eBay nearly a decade ago after weeks of bidding). I told them I was headed to Brixton for the Bowie street party because I felt I needed to be with other fans, to which they responded that they “may go to that later because it sounded cool.” At that moment I realised that Bowie to me was never about ‘other people’; Bowie was my safe place as a bullied, extrovert kid in a brutal Northern state school. He was the person who made me feel like it was okay to be the weird kid, and in fact it was okay to be whatever I wanted to be. He was my Starman, my Thin White Duke, my Diamond Dog, my hero...
So I walked home alone, listening to Ziggy Stardust, just me and him, as we have been for so many years. So here's to the bedroom Bowie fans, the kids that didn’t fit, and the hero that dragged us out and taught us how to be our own, all-encompassing, Spiders from Mars.
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‘Modern Love’ (as picked by Ben Hopkins)
Possessing call-and-response vocals, handclap rhythms and bursts of sax, ‘Modern Love’ is as immediate as music can be. Lyrically, however, it’s a puzzle that could be interpreted as a cyclical, nihilistic rejection of conventional relationships and organised relationship. It’s beguiling in pure sonic terms, but layering such depth in what appears to be a simple pop song is a touch of genius.
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'Wild Is The Wind' (as picked by Gemma Hampson)
A Sunday in the year 2000 will stay with me forever. There I am, a 19-year-old psychedelic music obsessive who’d pushed my way to within touching distance of the main stage at Glastonbury. On walks a dashingly handsome David Bowie, all flowing locks and floral jacket. I knew every word to Ziggy and the hits, but he kicked off this legendary set with ‘Wild is the Wind’, a cover of a 1952 Johnny Mathis song he recorded for 1976’s 'Station To Station'. It was a song that hadn’t been on my Bowie-radar – either unheard or just missed. It blew my mind. His voice was the main focus – there was no character or costume, no pushing the boundaries of tech, just him singing to me. How I swooned.
‘Wild Is The Wind’ became my personal Bowie song, my moment with him, and it’s stayed with me since. It’s so soft and subtle, but with a passion, a lust, that’s bubbling beneath. It’s a love story carried on a breeze that wraps around you before exploding, and it’s all in his voice. When he sings ‘Don’t you know, you’re life itself’ - I die, every time. He’s a crooner, a romantic, desperate for love, but he’s Bowie. I don’t think there’s another Bowie song like it, not for me anyway.
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'Subterraneans' (as picked by Mat Smith)
If you grew up, as I did, listening to predominantly electronic music, at some point you find yourself being guided toward Bowie’s ‘Low’ album. It would be easy to pick any of the five tracks that grace side two as an important song in its own right, but ‘Subterraneans’ stands apart, primarily for the way it envelops various motifs into a coherent, and undeniably stirring, conclusion to ‘Low’. Here we have Bowie and Brian Eno, the former Roxy Music synth wizard who would later go on to isolate the ambient quality of tracks like ‘Subterraneans’ to create a whole new genre of music, creating a sound world full of rich synth strings and buzzing, but pretty texture.
‘Subterraneans’ is dense, but never cloying, sounding like a muted release of emotion that may have been symbolic of Bowie’s progress against addiction. In Bowie’s evocative sax we find ourselves contemplating the synth arrangements as being more akin to free jazz than, say, Kraftwerk’s relative formalism - Minimalist composer Philip Glass would develop an orchestral reappraisal of ‘Subterraneans’ which isolates the elegiac nature of Bowie and Eno’s string sounds, permitting us to further consider ‘Subterraneans’ as a broadly classical piece.
The final gesture comes in the form of a single, evocative, vocal passage which finds Bowie rushing through lyrics that made no sense whatsoever and were a product of his Burroughsian cut-up approach, making this about as avant garde as it’s possible to be within the environs of what was supposedly pop music.
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